Most of us have a profound appreciation for our mothers that transcends description. As great as many fathers are, usually it is our mothers who have a more persistent and pervasive impact on our lives. Motherhood is highly valued, even revered, by individuals and in the majority of homes and families.
Once we leave our homes and enter public life, however, a remarkable transformation occurs. There, motherhood is viewed as a sort of exile or banishment from the important things in life, and as an unfortunate burden deserving of pity and calling out for rescue. As the influential political philosopher John Rawls put it, “A long and historic injustice to women is that they have borne, and continue to bear, an unjust share of the task of raising, nurturing, and caring for their children.” This task of raising children, in the understanding of Rawls and of mainstream American culture today, is a burden to be “borne.” As such, this burden should be divided as equitably as possible between mothers and fathers as a matter of justice.
This view—however well-meaning in its origin—has led to the mistaken and unjust social marginalization of the 10.4 million American women who fall under the description of “stay-at-home mother.” These full-time mothers, though they may look forward to being cherished and revered by their children (eventually!), are viewed by society as something akin to couch potatoes. Even the label “stay-at-home mom” evokes such an image—as if such mothers, when approached by an opportunity to get an actual job or make a real difference in the world, respond “No thanks, I think I’ll stay at home.”
Mother’s Day provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the value of the mothers in our own lives. But it should also lead us to reflect on the value of motherhood in general, its importance for our society, and the ways in which we might rescue full-time mothers not from motherhood itself but from the social marginalization that currently accompanies their choice.
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